Pubdate: Sun, 28 May 2000
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2000 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Michael Sorkin and Phyllis Brasch
Bookmark: additional articles on governmental corruption may be found at


WASHINGTON - The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration is investigating 
itself - saying it wants to know why agents allowed supersnitch Andrew 
Chambers to tell lies during 15 years of trial testimony that sent hundreds 
of people to prison.

As many as two dozen of the agents who worked with Chambers in St. Louis 
and elsewhere are under scrutiny for a possible cover-up. The big question: 
Did they know that their star undercover informer was perjuring himself 
when they watched him swear again and again in court that he had never been 
arrested or convicted?

Agents could face discipline - in the extreme, even criminal prosecution - 
according to Richard A. Fiano, the DEA's chief of operations.

Some agents clearly knew Chambers was lying - they rescued him three times 
after police arrested him on suspicion of forgery, soliciting an undercover 
officer for prostitution and claiming to be a federal agent.

Fiano promises that if mistakes are found, they will be punished. "It can't 
be a win-at-all costs (attitude) on this side of the fence," he said in an 
interview at DEA headquarters outside Washington.

He and other senior DEA officials insist that they didn't know about 
Chambers' well-documented lies until August. But the agency's own records 
show that the DEA chief counsel's office knew no later than May of last year.

That is when it sent a memo to field agents, warning that Chambers' 
credibility "has been thoroughly impeached." It cited court rulings 
critical of Chambers dating to 1993.

The DEA also had to know about Chambers because it fought a two-year court 
fight to keep information about him secret.

In June, Dean Steward, then a federal public defender in California, won a 
lawsuit forcing the DEA to divulge that it had paid more than $2.2 million 
to Chambers - much of it in cash - plus a history of arrests the government 
had kept from defense lawyers.

This month, Steward told a federal judge in Washington that the DEA 
"continues to stonewall, cover up, and otherwise resist this court's order. 
. . . The growing scandal surrounding the use of this informant has clearly 
put this agency on the defensive, trying to minimize the impact of their 
egregious actions . . ."

Four key false statements

An investigation by the Post-Dispatch found that the DEA has tried to cover 
up an agency cover-up of dealings with Chambers. An internal report, 
written in February, contains at least four key false statements:

In 1995, a federal judge in Denver dismissed indictments against 10 
defendants after finding that Chambers got a percentage of whatever his 
investigations turned up, an incentive to lie.

The DEA report denies any such agreement with Chambers. But an internal 
document dated November 1995 says the agency indeed agreed to pay Chambers 
a percentage of the value of drugs and money agents seized. A DEA agent's 
testimony confirmed the arrangement.

The report says the DEA's St. Louis field office was never "officially 
notified" that the U.S. attorney's office here was rejecting any 
investigations relying on Chambers.

The Post-Dispatch has verified that then-U.S. Attorney Ed Dowd called the 
special agent in charge of the DEA's St. Louis office in 1998 and bluntly 
told him not to bring any more cases if Chambers was to be a witness. Dowd 
recommended that use of Chambers be barred nationwide.

The report denies that Dean Hoag, a career federal prosecutor in St. Louis, 
dropped charges against a defendant because of Chambers' lies.

But federal court records substantiate Hoag's statement to a reporter that 
he dropped charges against a woman on Oct. 26, 1998; Hoag feared Chambers 
had enticed the woman into a drug deal.

Hoag called Chambers "a flimflam man," and said the DEA needed stronger 
control of him. Hoag now says he can no longer discuss Chambers.

The report says Chambers lied four times while testifying under oath for 
the DEA.

But according to available court records, Chambers lied a lot more than 
that. They show he lied in at least 16 trials - and probably many more - 
when he told judges and juries that he had never been arrested or 
convicted, inflated his educational background and claimed he had paid 
taxes on his DEA earnings.

In response to the Post-Dispatch's findings, the DEA said its report on 
Chambers was constantly being revised. Fiano and other officials would not 
provide a copy of any updated report, but the agency now admits verifying 
Chambers' lies in 13 trials.

So far, no outside agency is investigating the DEA's use of Chambers.

Last month, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for 
acting DEA Administrator Donnie Marshall without raising the question of 
what he or his subordinates knew about Chambers.

Government misconduct

In April 1993, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Calif., 
wrote that "the record clearly demonstrates" that Chambers had perjured 
himself repeatedly.

In March 1995, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis reached 
the same conclusion, adding a condemnation of what it called the 
government's "haphazard approach" to uncovering the truth.

In November 1996, Chambers was again a DEA witness, this time in federal 
court in New Orleans. A defense attorney asked how the government could 
continue to use someone who had a record of arrests but repeatedly swore he 

Replied Chambers: "I think I'm about the best . . ."

Much later, after Chambers had became a hot potato, the DEA credited him 
with being the most active informer in the agency's history, participating 
in nearly 300 investigations leading to 445 arrests.

In March 1997, DEA Special Agent Michael Stanfill testified in a Colorado 
state court that Chambers was to have been paid $19,000 for his work in 
Minnesota but forfeited $5,000 as punishment for lying in court about his 

Still, Chambers continued to testify for the DEA - and to lie. In a recent 
case, he lied in Tampa, Fla., about his arrests.

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler in Washington noted 
Chambers' continued perjury for the DEA. She wrote that the evidence of 
extensive government misconduct was "very compelling."

"We didn't know"

None of these or other warnings from judges, defense attorneys or 
prosecutors seemed to register at the agency's headquarters, two black 
towers in Arlington, Va.

How could the DEA's leaders not know a federal appellate court had labeled 
their most active informer a "perjurer"?

The answer, senior DEA operations officials insist, is that only rulings 
that overturn convictions come to their attention - and no defendant in a 
Chambers case has won an appeal.

"It just would never come to us," said Fiano, the chief of operations.

But if Fiano and his predecessor did not know, lawyers in their chief 
counsel's office at headquarters did. On May 20, about three months before 
Fiano says he knew, Gregory Mitchell, acting chief of the DEA's domestic 
law section, issued a two-page legal memorandum.

"The witness has been thoroughly impeached throughout federal case law, and 
the print media," Mitchell wrote. He quoted from three court rulings and 
two newspaper articles.

Records show the memo went to the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles, 
where Chambers was to be a witness, plus eight DEA field offices, including 
St. Louis.

The special agents in charge of each of those field offices report to 
Fiano, as they did to his predecessor.

Fiano became chief of domestic operations in April 1998 and worldwide 
operations in July 1999. He has charge of all 4,500 DEA special agents and 
about 4,500 confidential informers, including Chambers.

In August, Fiano said, Terry Parham, the DEA's chief spokesman, alerted him 
of allegations of Chambers' lying. Fiano said he immediately "put a hold on 
using him."

Actually, DEA records show, the order allowed agents to continue using 
Chambers with approval from the special agent in charge at one of the 21 
domestic offices.

Fiano said he didn't know if the allegations were true. He said Chambers 
may have been involved in ongoing investigations "that we couldn't stop 
unless we had firm concrete evidence that he did, in fact, perjure himself 
- - which we hadn't at that time."

Not until February, six months later, did the DEA "deactivate" Chambers, 
pending the results of its still unfinished internal investigation.

Chambers' suspension came two weeks after the Post-Dispatch published on 
Jan. 16 the results of a four-month investigation. U.S. Attorney General 
Janet Reno read it, and a few days later Chambers was out.

But not all the way out; a DEA spokesman said Chambers could continue to 
work on existing cases.

The scandal has grown since then, as prosecutors in Florida and other 
states dropped charges against 14 defendants rather than call Chambers to 

Early in April, Fiano said, the DEA began an investigation to determine 
whether Chambers should remain on the payroll and to find out what the 
agents knew. The scope includes interviews with prosecutors, he added.

The inquiry began two years after Steward, the public defender from 
California, first warned the DEA about Chambers.

"This will never happen again"

The DEA now is distancing itself from its former star, and Fiano says it is 
unlikely Chambers will return to work.

The agency says it is adopting new regulations requiring field offices to 
keep records of any allegations that an informer lied. Similar regulations 
already were on the books but, for a variety of reasons, fell through the 
cracks, the DEA says.

Because many informers are criminals, Fiano said his agency has the 
toughest restrictions on them of any federal police agency. "You can't live 
with them; you can't live without them," he suggested.

Chambers may be unique, Fiano says, providing reliable information about 
drug dealers in exchange for money. His ability to make quick deals helps 
agents look good, and some reciprocate by treating him as an equal.

Fiano says it has never been proved that Chambers lied about any material 
facts - other than about himself. He says he doubts whether agents 
intentionally violated any laws to protect him.

"This will never happen again," Fiano said. "If somebody needs their head 
slapped or their hand slapped, we will do that. We'll fix it and go on with 
business - under the new guidelines."

Case of the disappearing files

Critics, pointing to Chambers' many in-house defenders, are dubious. They 
point to the case of the disappearing DEA files on Chambers in California.

In 1988, Ellyn Marcus Lindsay, an assistant U.S. attorney in Los Angeles, 
told a judge that she had the DEA's file on Chambers and that it included 
his arrest records.

But by December 1999, another assistant U.S. attorney, Stephen Wolfe, was 
in front of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in California explaining 
why he had not disclosed the evidence that Chambers had lied.

By law, prosecutors are required to provide full information about their 
witnesses, so defense lawyers can use anything negative to raise questions 
with jurors about the credibility of the testimony.

Wolfe told the court that he personally had inspected the file and that 
there was nothing there. "It's clear they never put anything bad about an 
informant into these type of files . . . never," the prosecutor told the 

Other prosecutors across the country may have some explaining to do if it 
turns out that agents withheld information from them.

In Tampa, the U.S. attorney's office is being accused of prosecutorial 
misconduct by a defense lawyer for failing to disclose evidence of 
Chambers' past lies. It's one of a growing number of appeals of Chambers' 

"For somebody to testify falsely, then admit that under oath and be paid 
for it - that's wrong," says the defense attorney, Marcia Shein of Atlanta. 
"How much are we willing to be in bed with these people?"
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